Bomb-Damaged Brussels Airport to Send Passengers Through Hangar

BELGIUM-ATTACKS-AIRPORT

Tents are seen at Brussels Airport, on March 29, where authorities are running a series of tests at to see if makeshift check-in facilities are good enough to restart some flights.

Photographer: Benoit Doppagne/AFP/Getty Images
  • Shattered hub's reopening may be announced on Wednesday
  • Hourly capacity likely to be less than 20% of normal flow

People flying to Brussels Zaventem airport will be sent to a hangar to collect their bags, while departing passengers carrying hand luggage face three flights of stairs to reach the security barrier, according to the latest plans for the reopening of the Belgian hub after last week’s terrorist attacks.

Such is the damage to the departure hall where the two nail bombs were detonated that an unused room on a level normally frequented mainly by bus users will be transformed into a makeshift check-in and baggage-drop-off zone, cutting the airport’s capacity to 800 people an hour from 5,000.

Concern about the integrity of the arrivals hall, located one floor below departures, means that area will also initially remain closed, according to airport spokeswoman Nathalie Van Impe, with travelers to be taken by bus to retrieve their luggage from a storage hangar before exiting the hub.

Dry Run

Zaventem could make an announcement on resuming a limited number of flights as early as Wednesday, Van Impe said. An assessment will be made in conjunction with the Belgian government, police and other security agencies following a run through of the alternative arrangements on Tuesday afternoon during which hundreds of airport staff will pose as customers, she said.

March 22’s suicide attacks destroyed the hub’s check-in area and shattered not just every window in the arrivals hall but most of the frames too, while bringing down much of the ceiling, according to the airport. The death toll from the bombs has climbed to 15.

“The structure of the building is intact, but pretty much everything else has been impaired,” Van Impe said. “The damage is extensive.”

Even in undamaged areas, everything from the electricity supply and air conditioning to fire-prevention systems and escalators must be checked by specialist engineers before flights resume, she said. If initial operations go smoothly, capacity may be lifted to 1,000 passengers an hour in a few days.

Brussels Airlines NV, the top carrier at Zaventem with a third of passengers, will be offered the most takeoff and landing slots once the airport reopens, Van Impe said. The carrier, 45 percent owned by Deutsche Lufthansa AG, is intent on restarting long-haul services as soon as possible, though vital feeder flights must also be available, spokeswoman Wencke Lemmes said.

Brussels Air has moved aircraft and crews used for inter-continental flights to Frankfurt and Zurich to maintain links with the U.S. and a number of African destinations where it’s the main European carrier. A pared back short-haul fleet is based at Liege and Antwerp, each about an hour from the capital.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, Zaventem’s second-biggest carrier, has shifted all Brussels flights to its existing Charleroi hub -- known as Brussels South -- and said Tuesday it will keep all operations there until Friday a least. TUI AG’s Jetairfly arm said flights will remain at Ostend in the north until April 10.

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